Block Parent program in danger of being forgotten

By Stephen Dafoe

Story updated Nov. 23 3;00 p.m.
Morinville – After re-launching the Block Parent program in the Morinville area a few years ago, children needing a safe and friendly home would have to travel far and wide to find the aid they are looking for. There are currently 12 Block Parent households and one business between Morinville and Cardiff registered with the program which puts a highly visible sign in the windows of homes children can go to if they are lost, hurt or in danger.

Program Chair Karen Mercier, who brought the program back to the area in 2008, said the reason the organization has had difficulties attracting volunteers in Morinville to act as Block Parents is the misconception that participants need to be home all day and a general lack of awareness of the existence of the program and what it does.

“In the day when Block Parent was very, very active here in town, the youth knew about it,” Mercier said, adding the Block Parent board went to local schools to talk about the program. “Now when I speak to kids, they don’t know what Block Parent is.”

Mercier said the Block Parent Program started more than four decades ago in Ontario as a way to keep youth safe and protected by involving seniors who were at home during the day. The sign in the window stating a home was a Block Parent home let children know there was a safe stranger they could appeal to in a time of trouble.

About five years ago the National organization requested all signs be returned in exchange for new signs that had additional security measures, including registration, and the addition of a provincial decal and a decal with the year of issue.

“Unfortunately, our life has switched over within the teaching of our youth,” Mercier said. “Don’t talk to strangers. At one point in time, we entrusted and we loved one another. But the life and the growth of our communities have changed.”

But Mercier, who has been a Block Parent for more than 20 years, could not let her passion for the program dissolve along with the national organization. “It’s a sign saying out loud, ‘I care about my community,’” Mercier said of the red and white Block Parent sign.. “I care about you as an adult, I care about you as a senior, and I care about the youth. I truly find, rather than being just a place for young people to come to, to know that that is a safe stranger, it is also a territory marker. I’m putting it out there as a good sense of aura that I’m marking my territory and that I’m watching.”

Mercier said there is no cost to participate in the program. All supplies and programming are provided by Alberta Block Parent. Additionally, there is no requirement for the sign to be in the window at all times. The sign is removed when people are at work or unable to offer aid and put back in the window when someone 18 or older is in the home and able to offer assistance.

Families and individuals interested in becoming a Block Parent fill out a simple application form listing their contact information and a couple of personal references. Block Parent then provides the applicant with a letter to be taken to the RCMP for a police check to be done. There is no cost for the police check.

The process is the same for businesses; however, record checks are required for each of the business’ employees. Businesses are provided with a decal for their store window.

Mercier is hoping to increase the number of Block Parents to her original goal of 50, but realizes that any additional assistance will be welcomed.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Morinville and Area Block Parent program can contact Karen Mercier at 780-939-4514.

Editor’s Note:In our Nov. 22 article Block Parent program in danger of being forgotten, we quoted local Block Parent association chair Karen Mercier as stating:

“However, Mercier said about five years ago, the national division of Block Parent dissolved and asked for the return of all signs currently in use because of public concerns over the types of people who might apply to become Block Parents.”

Although this is an accurate rendering of the information given us during our interview, we have been informed by the Alberta Block Parent Association that the National Parent has never dissolved and that the reason the signs were recalled was to issue new signs which had new security measures included on them. These measures included each sign having a registration number, a provincial decal and a year decal.

Morinvillenews.com regrets reporting the erroneous information.

For more information on the Block Parent program, please visit www.blockparent.ca.

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